The King County Council rains cash down on the Orion Center
  • Liz Trautman
  • The King County Council rains cash down on the Orion Center
Today, the King County Council announced an allocation of $120,000 in its 2014 budget to fund YouthCare's James W. Ray Orion Center, located at the foot of Capitol Hill on Denny Way. The funds are a vital step in keeping the Orion Center's overnight shelter open, which hosts up to 20 homeless young adults ages 18-24 each night, but the organization isn't out of the woods yet. The shelter's annual operating costs amount to $350,000. "We are hopeful that the city council will provide $130,000 to match the King County Council investment, and we are waiting until their budget is finalized to make decisions about our own 2014 young adult shelter budget and operations," explains YouthCare spokeswoman Elizabeth Trautman.

Still, the funds are a good start. “Each night over 700 youth and young adults are homeless in King County," said Council member Joe McDermott, Chair of the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee at this morning's budget presser held at the Orion Center. McDermott praised YouthCare and other nonprofits that cater to homeless youth populations as "worthy investments," noting that "despite being nervous when I came out to my family, I knew they would accept me and wouldn't reject me. Many kids in King County aren't as fortunate." About 40 percent of the homeless youth the Orion Center serves were kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation, according to Hedda McLendon, director of programs at the Orion Center.

Aside from the $120,000 earmarked for YouthCare, the county's budget sets aside funding for emergency youth centers in Redmond and Auburn, as well as a program that reunites runaways with their families. Another $250,000 from the county's general fund is being set aside for homeless youth employment training programs.

Other highlights of the county's $8.9 billion budget include funding to restore water quality monitoring across the county, which council member Larry Phillips explained will help officials use "data" and "science" to better monitor ocean acidification, toxins, and nitrogen levels in our water supplies. The budget also preserves between 147-200 units of section 8 housing, and adds two full Sheriff’s patrol units—six deputies and two sergeants—to cover unincorporated King County. "It doesn't bring us back to pre-recession levels but it's a good start," noted county council member Kathy Lambert. "It will make a noticeable difference."

"We lost 150 positions in the sheriff's office over the last few years," added King County Sheriff John Urquhart. "We can't rebuild that over night, but this is a great start and they were able to do it while funding social services. That's just as important."

Of course, council members noted that King County Metro is still fucked nine ways to Sunday, thanks to the state legislators epic failure to pass a transportation package that would allow our county to shore up the $75 million annual budget shortfall in transit funding—a shortfall that will lead to metro service cuts by next fall, Phillips warned. "Without a stable funding source, the people of King County will see staggering cuts to services" that will make it harder for them to get to work and earn a paycheck, he said. The legislature will have another chance to correct this egregious oversight once they convene for a short session in January—if they choose to address it at all.

The county council is expected to unanimously approve the budget this afternoon. After the Council vote, the 2014 Budget will be sent to County Executive Dow Constantine for his signature.